The unshackling of farmers from the organised trade that exercises control on designated (APMC) mandis is proving to be a long saga in India.
The unshackling of farmers from the organised trade that exercises control on designated (APMC) mandis is proving to be a long saga in India. Maharashtra, which a month ago removed all farm produce including livestock from the purview of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) via an ordinance, did a U-turn on Wednesday and withdrew the relevant Bill from the Upper House of the state Assembly, yielding to the pressure tactics of traders, commission agents and their labourers. On Tuesday, the Lower House passed the Bill.
Until a committee comprising all stakeholders reviewed the Bill, the ordinance won’t be enforced, Maharashtra’s minister for cooperation and marketing Subhash Deshmukh said, adding that the Bill would be brought back only after taking the concerns of all stakeholders into account. He said the Bill was passed by the Lower House ‘in a hasty manner’ and urged all the 305 APMCs in the state to resume functions with immediate effect.
While experts have long advocated the dismantling of APMC Acts in states to have competitive markets for farm produce which the farmers could get unhindered access to, Maharashtra has been only the second state after Bihar to attempt such comprehensive APMC reform. A delegation of farmers, traders and commission agents met chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Wednesday morning. Traders of the Vashi APMC in Navi Mumbai had observed a day-long bandh on Tuesday against the government’s decision to denotify all agri-commodities from the purview of the mandis. Mathadi workers across the state later joined the strike and both sections — traders at Vashi and Mathadi workers across the state — had threatened to go on an indefinite strike against the new law.
Narendra Patil, general secretary of Maharashtra Rajya Mathadi, Transport and General Workers Union, welcomed the decision to put the bill in abeyance. Traders have called of the strike following the government’s decision. The Fadnavis government issued an ordinance on October 25, amending the Maharashtra Agriculture Produce Marketing (Development and Regulation) Act, 1963, to denotify all agricultural produce from the purview of the APMC Act. This meant that farmers could sell all farm goods outside regulated APMC markets in the state. Traders called for a “level-playing field” and argued that if the government had freed up trade outside the mandis, APMCs also should not charge any levy from traders inside the market area since it meant discrimination against them. Traders at Vashi also pointed out that the market had been shifted to Navi Mumbai to decongest the city area and a move of this nature would add to the chaos.
In July 2016, the state government amended the APMC Act to deregulate vegetables and fruits. On October 25, flowers, oilseeds and foodgrains were also taken out of the purview of the APMC Act through the ordinance. While there were reports that the government had in August decided to penalise traders who failed to pay the minimum support prices (MSP) fixed by the government to farmers with a one-year jail term and fine of `50,000, Deshmukh told the assembly that no such decision was taken. The minister clarified the Cabinet on August 21 only discussed a proposal to